Sunday, June 19, 2011

In My Father's Garden

I used to hate yard work. And the worst form of torture was mowing the lawn. It wasn't that our lawn was all that large, although the slope in the front (or so I thought at the time) might as well have been the slopes of the Misty Mountains, covered in lush, thick, grow-by-the-minute-in-the-Oregon-rain blades of grass. No, there was the neighbor's narrow and thinly laid lawn across the street, the neighbor's small, yet twisty-turny lawn next door and of course, the neighbor's ginormous lawn on the other side of that house. There were only a few select days I had to mow all of them at once. The rain was the worst. I'm sure that I complained more than necessary. After all, what was a few minutes spent caring for a neighbor in need? And I know I grumbled, stalled as much as humanly possible, pouted, stomped kicked and screamed. But one way or another the lawn got mowed and life went on. When I was a child I thought like a child. Thankfully, my father knew better. He also knew that one day, looking back on this, that I'd know better too. He was right in both regards. He knew that the neighbors needed their lawn mowed and most, if not all of them, were unable to do so themselves.

A schmaltzy TV "news" segment this morning said, in an unscientific poll, that 75% of dads want nothing more than to have their family help with the yard work. My dad guessed the answer right even before it was given. On this father's day, among other familial memories, I remember my father and yard work. He still loves it, more than I ever will (although I no longer hate it and love the smell of fresh cut grass!), but that is a particular vocation he has been granted. God works - not in mysterious ways - but through the noble humility of calloused hands, oily-stained fingers, greasy, grubby clothes and hard-working fathers (biological, spiritual, adopted or whoever that person is in your life). God hides himself behind the mud, blood, guts and beer.

Thank God for fathers and their vocation. For it was in the garden with dirt under our finger nails and the smell of manure in the air, with the clippers and chainsaws praising God that I learned the most about my father, about his selfless love and service to any (and sometimes every) neighbor in need. I know all he heard was pissing and moaning...but that's not what I heard. Behind the lawn mower - clipping, emptying the bag, refueling the tank, checking the sharpness of the blade - my father was teaching me the same selfless love. There was no manual. We wouldn't have read the directions anyway. It was simply, yet in the most profound manner, a silent sacrificial service, giving yourself for the needs of others. Now that is the doctrine of vocation in action and I didn't even realize it until I went to seminary, until I had household chores to do in my own house, until I looked into my daughter's eyes for the first time. It all makes sense now - even if it is only a week in.

You can learn hard work from just about anyone. But it takes a father formed by our heavenly Father to teach a stubborn, groaning, stomping son what this vocation of fatherhood is all about. It is a sacred honor. As I am sure it was his sacred duty to dispatch. My father taught me many things. But most of all, my father made sure that that same ornery boy was sitting in catechism class, kneeling at the Altar and led to the font - not to wash all that rich, Michigan dirt off - but for a clean conscience, to be adopted as a son by the Father from whom all fatherhood is known. All the while, from the font to the front yard, the Lord and giver of life was doing His own Fatherly work, without any merit or worthiness in us. This is the Father who tirelessly gives Himself entirely and wholly for the needs of others. The Father who sent His Son, His only Son, to suffer and die for all His wayward, grumbling rebellious children. A perfect sacrifice of selfless love. Led by the Spirit, through the Son to the Father. What a blessed coincidence that Father's Day happens to fall on Trinity Sunday this year.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if we are children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. - Romans 8:14-17.

How great is the love that our Father (and fathers) have poured out on us that we should be called sons of God, and that is who we are. A blessed and happy father's day to you all.

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